A sheriff's investigation continued today into the burglary at that wiped out the school's Technology Lab of more than $35,000 in Apple desktop computers.
The thieves broke into the school located at 18100 Dumont Ave. in Cerritos, sometime between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, then shattered a window to the computer lab to gain access to the classroom's 30 Apple iMacs -- a loss totaling roughly $36,000, according to the .
"It's not unusual for a school to be a target, but nothing has happened like this in Cerritos before," said sheriff's Lt. Richard Harpham.
Harpham added that when burglaries do occur at Cerritos schools, the theft is usually isolated to small things or "a computer" but nothing of this magnitude. Although no suspects had been identified as of Thursday evening, the lieutenant said evidence was still being collected.
"At this point things are still developing," he said, adding that fingerprints were taken at the scene shortly after the burglarized classroom was discovered.
"It is a classroom so there are fingerprints all over the place and it takes a few days for the prints to get through the system and figure out what we have," he said.
When asked what the thieves would likely do with such a large mass of stolen computers, Harpham said it was still too early to tell.
"Generally they re-sell these computers, but some have a more sophisticated plan to offload the items. Or, we could be dealing with drug users who are just looking to quickly sell them. We don't know at this point, what we're dealing with here," he said.
Anyone with information on the burglary was urged to call the Cerritos Sheriff's Station at (562) 860-0044.
School Sends Email to Parents: Incident is "not representative of an ongoing threat"
While sheriff's detectives believe the heist took place between the overnight hours of Nov. 29 to Nov. 30, the burglary was reported by a school employee just before 7 a.m. Wednesday, after which sheriff's deputies quickly arrived at the scene to launch their investigation. Later that day, the school's administration notified the students' parents of what had happened via email.
"Investigators believe a small team of individuals broke though our gate and stole all our desktop computers from the Middle School Technology Lab," Valley Christian Schools Superintendent Rich Suttie's email stated.
"The police department (Cerritos Sheriff's Station) believes this particular incident to be sophisticated and isolated at this time -- and not representative of an ongoing threat. Nevertheless, we are reviewing all our security procedures per our normal response plans, and will take whatever actions are prudent to increase security as necessary," Suttie added.
VCMS Principal Puts Burglary In Perspective For Students During Special Assembly
After the burglary was reported, the students were gathered for a special assembly at the start of school.
"I led that assembly and explained to them what had happened and I told them everything I know," VCMS Principal Paul Theule said. "The kids asked questions -- some really good ones, and I tried to put it all into perspective."
Theule said sending a message of reassurance to the children was a critical aspect in dealing with the aftermath of the break-in.
"This is their school and the kids feel this is a really safe place, so it's a violation of that safe space for them," he said. "Because we are a Christian school, I told them 'look we live in a sinful world, you're going to encounter sin and evil constantly in life -- be it in war, on 9/11, even in gossip. But we give thanks to God for he has given us so much'."
As head of the school, Theule stressed that it was also important to put things into proper perspective for the students.
"We reassured them that the sheriff's department is on top of it, we're on top of it, and no one was hurt and everything is fine. I think giving them this reassurance helped an awful lot."
Teachers and Students Adapt to Lack of Computer Access
As sheriff's detectives continue to search for the persons responsible for this burglary, the prinicipal says the middle school's teachers have had to modify their lesson plans without the computers.
"We have our core classes -- English, Social Studies, Science and Math -- and the computers are used for each one of those classes," Theule said, adding that the Technology Lab was used daily by the 190 students in the 7th and 8th grade class.
While the computers are an instrumental part in both the teaching and learning application aspects of the school's standard classes, the principal says the lab is also relied on for exploratory courses.
"These are courses that are geared for kids to explore all different kinds of things," Theule said. "Some of the courses are extensions of core classes that we have, some are very arts-oriented. We especially use the computer lab for things like digital music composition, flash animation, video production and photography -- to create our school yearbook."
Although the loss was substantial, Theule says the teaching staff has quickly adjusted to not having computer access.
"We've got some really creative teachers here," he said, adding that the staff has looked to other learning methods since the equipment went missing. "We don't have the computers at the center of the learning engine, but they are certainly a powerful tool for it."
As for the students, Theule proudly says they are adapting well.
"We have the most joyful group of kids you can find, they are a blast. And I think they're moving ahead."